UNLV’s previous two football coaches had their signature offensive styles — student body left and right for John Robinson and the spread for Mike Sanford.
Both were defined by those approaches before they came to UNLV, and neither deviated much during their tenures.
Deciding what defines Bobby Hauck is more complicated, largely because his first game as Rebels coach isn’t until 8 p.m. today against 12th-ranked Wisconsin at Sam Boyd Stadium.
And also because, as Hauck admits, “I don’t really have a style.”
But not having a style actually might be Hauck’s signature because instead of getting hung up on adhering to a philosophy, he prefers to do whatever it takes to win. Run 35 times one game, pass 35 the next — doesn’t matter to him.
Hauck might not be able to do enough to beat Wisconsin, which is favored by 20½ points, but the season opener should provide more clues about what his time at UNLV will look like.
His imprint on this team already has been seen. He is flexible enough to retain much of the spread he inherited from Sanford, but is immovable in believing hard work, discipline and organization can’t be compromised.
“We’re going to be this: we’re going to be tough,” Hauck said. “We’re going to try to minimize errors and play football the way it’s supposed to be played. I think that will be our team style, to be a physical, hard-working bunch.”
Tonight’s game is a mystery in many ways, especially for Wisconsin’s coaches. They have studied video of UNLV’s personnel and watched how Hauck and most of his staff coached at Montana.
“We have changed up significantly on both sides of the ball,” Hauck said. “They’ll have to be ready for some things, and maybe we have a little advantage because we have a pretty good idea who they are.”
Hauck has been pleased with the players’ willingness to work hard and their belief in the coaches’ plan.
But he also knows the Rebels must play much better defense to have any chance of stopping a Wisconsin running game led by John Clay, who rushed for 1,517 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, on his way to being the Big Ten Conference Offensive Player of the Year.
“He’s coming downhill,” UNLV linebacker Ronnie Paulo said. “You don’t want to be in front of him, but you definitely want to prepare for that. You want to be aware he’s on the field.”
UNLV was last in the Mountain West Conference in rushing defense, allowing 220.6 yards per game.
Offensively, Mike Clausen unseated Omar Clayton at quarterback, and he should be aided by what appears to be a greater commitment to the running game than under Sanford. The Rebels averaged 126.8 yards last season, and they face a Wisconsin team that allowed 88.2.
Channing Trotter will start at running back and will be part of a rotation that includes C.J. Cox and Bradley Randle, a redshirt freshman who was a top recruit. An incoming freshman, Tim Cornett, also could be part of the mix.
It’s part of Hauck’s effort to establish a more run-based offense, but he refuses to say he’s moving completely toward the traditional two-back, tight end set.
As long as he’s successful, Rebels fans won’t care what kind of style Hauck brings to the program.
He went 80-17 and appeared in three Football Championship Subdivision title games in seven seasons at Montana. UNLV hasn’t had a winning season or bowl berth in 10 years.
Though a victory is unlikely tonight, this game could provide a glimpse into what to expect under Hauck beyond this weekend.
“Bobby did a very nice job at Montana,” Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. “We expect to (face) a well-coached football team that is looking for any way to get a win.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914.WISCONSIN VS. UNLV
WHEN: 8 p.m. today
WHERE: Sam Boyd Stadium
TV/RADIO: Versus (38), KWWN-AM (1100), FM 98.9
LINE: Wisconsin -20; total 55